(I’ve also posted this on the AIM Group’s new site, where I’m also blogging. I’ll be cross-posting some items as appropriate, and will note when that’s the case.)
Gatehouse Media has a fascinating experiment going on in Batavia, N.Y., to see what an online-only local news service might look like.
So far it looks like a blog, where each article is a blog entry, and people can add comments, and the whole thing is a long scrolling page. But The Batavian has a lot more going on. There are links to headlines from other local media, job postings, for-sale listings, photo galleries. There are many postings every day. There’s a two-person staff dedicated to the site, one for news and one for sports. Howard Owens, a Gatehouse exec who also is a prolific blogger (when the spam doesn’t wear him down) is acting as the site’s publisher. Philip Anselmo is news editor and Brian Hillabush is sports editor.
Gatehouse’s newspapers all have websites, and some are very advanced in both audience strategies and business strategies. This is Gatehouse’s first freestanding site, and it’s going up against the existing paper in Batavia, The Daily News.
Hillabush’s first day on the job was yesterday. He’s eager to get the community engaged in helping shape the site. “The really innovative thing we’re doing (with sports) is getting the coaches involved in writing their own blogs,” he said by phone today. “You kind of lose something when a coach calls the newspaper after a game and a reporter writes the story… I really think this is going to take off.”
The new guy knows what he’s talking about. He was a sports writer at The Daily News for eight years and in local radio in Batavia before that. He knows every coach in the area. He plans cover 3-4 games a week, writing stories and shooting photos and video. Plus recruiting those coaches.
Why jump from the daily newspaper to a startup like The Batavian? “Howard’s a big reason why I took this job,” Hillabush said.
Owens is a vocal (and controversial) proponent of just-do-it news video and community engagement. And The Batavian gives him a live testbed. Owens covered two fires with simple video cameras, one in Corfu and a fatal fire in Batavia. Heck, just today (9/11/08), he posted five news items.
“We picked Batavia because it’s a neat, vibrant town,” Owens says in his blog. “It’s close to our home office; and the daily newspaper there was doing nothing on the web.” Note: “doing nothing on the web” these days often is code for “not doing much on the web.” Here the phrase is literal. The Daily News site is more like a postcard than a brochure, and the copyright says 2003. Which will make Batavia all the more interesting to watch. Will the Daily News step up? Will The Batavian draw its audience? Or create a new audience?
For all The Batavian’s ambition, there isn’t much sense of an equally ambitious business model, no doubt a combination of the current bloggish design and the priority to build a viable audience. That could be an even tougher experiment: if there’s a new model for engaging a community’s residents, could there also be a new model for engaging its businesses?